There is nothing worse than being in the locker room of a team that was just eliminated from the playoffs, and the air seems to get thicker every round closer to the Stanley Cup that team was. Monday night in Edmonton, the air inside that Golden Knights locker room must have felt pretty heavy as the Western Conference’s top seed was sent packing just short of a return to the Stanley Cup Final.
The final outcome of the series, 4-1 in favor of the Dallas Stars, will be seen as a bit of a surprise to most people. On paper the Golden Knights held pretty much every advantage. Goaltending? Check. Scoring ability? Check. Depth? Check. Defense? Close, but yes. As it turns out, there’s a good reason they don’t play the games on paper.
Dallas never actually looked like a team that was playing spectacular hockey, yet always seemed to have the upper hand on the scoreboard when the clock hit zeroes. Even when Vegas held a 2-0 lead in Game Five, the Stars just kept chugging along, doing what they do and ended up tying the game in regulation and winning in overtime. There never seemed to be panic or even concern on the bench. Head coach Rick Bowness had the Stars playing their game and biding their time until chances appeared.
It felt to me like Vegas never really got its legs going in this series. Several big names failed to find the scoresheet on a regular basis, and even the few players who did contribute in more than one game didn’t rise up in the moments when it mattered. I’m sure in the coming days and weeks we will hear what injuries were going around and some performances will be more understandable in that light. But for a team that was billed as being able to roll four lines and boasted scoring depth at the top of the NHL, it really didn’t materialize in any meaningful way when it counted.
Credit Dallas for controlling the neutral zone against the Golden Knights and really cramping their style. Vegas never really had a chance to use its speed as much as it wanted to generate scoring chances. The Stars made zone entries and puck retrieval difficult for the Golden Knights forwards, who had to take outside paths to where they wanted to go. In fact if you look at both Vegas goals in Game Five they both came off long stretch passes that caught the Dallas defense off guard. Attacking through the neutral zone and setting up shop in the offensive zone didn’t happen nearly as much as was needed. Puck retrievals, zone time, the cycle game and winning battles along the boards in the offensive zone just didn’t happen in this series.
The other thing I thought the Stars did a good job of defensively was not giving up the blue line to the Golden Knights. A few times in Game Two Vegas was able to push the defense back and increase the gap from the attacking forward because the Dallas D had to respect the Golden Knights’ speed. When that happened, it was easier to pull up and create or drive the net thanks to the extra time and space. But it didn’t happen often, and credit is due to the Stars for proper gap control and back check support.
Of course, the spotlight will be glaring on the lack of offensive production for Vegas in the series. Scoring eight goals in five games is simply not enough. Only scoring three goals in a game once (they won) in a league where three is the magic number really hurts. Max Pacioretty, Alex Tuch, Nate Schmidt and Jonathan Marchesault all failed to score in the series. No Golden Knights player scored more than once in five games. That’s an unacceptable level of production no matter how you slice it.
Defensively and in net, I find less fault with the Golden Knights especially when considering the lack of run support. Losing a game you only allow one goal against is an anomaly, but makes sense when you consider the previous paragraph. Vegas only allowed three goals against twice in the series but just couldn’t find enough offense to advance. Robin Lehner was solid, making several key saves but he also failed to steal a game for the Stars they way I could argue Anton Khudobin did for Dallas in Game Three.
Now the attention turns to the off-season questions of who stays and who goes, what happens in net, and how Vegas will be different when they take to the ice for training camp in December. Make sure you bookmark Vegas Hockey Now for all the coverage and analysis you crave.
TURNING POINT: Fleury’s save comes up big in Golden Knights win
The hardest thing for Marc-Andre Fleury to do between the pipes is watch his Vegas Golden Knights teammates on gameday, when most of the action is taking place at the other end.
Sunday the Arizona Coyotes took a whopping 16 shots on Vegas’ veteran netminder during a 1-0 win in Glendale, Ariz.
“So sometimes I thought the hardest thing was just to stay focused and be ready for those things,” Fleury said after registering his 62nd career shutout and improving to 3-0-0 with a 1.00 goals against average and .951 save percentage this season.
Those things, he referred to, were two big saves that may have proved to be turning points for Vegas, which is now 5-1-0 and just one of two teams in the league with five wins.
“They were game changers,” said Jonathan Marchessault, who had the lead assist on William Karlsson’s game-winning goal with 43 seconds left in the game.
Just before the horn at the end of the second period, Fleury denied Jakob Chychrun’s shot through traffic from the top of the right circle.
But it was the save early in the third period that was Fleury’s best, and preserved the shutout and kept momentum fueling into the Golden Knights.
Arizona’s Phil Kessel was able to snatch the puck free from William Carrier in Vegas’ zone, skate through and around Golden Knights defenseman Zach Whitecloud in the neutral zone and bust free for a breakaway chance on his former Penguins teammate.
After shuffling backhand-forehand five times to his forehand, Kessel was stuffed by Fleury.
“I saw it was Phil Kessel coming on the breakaway, and I’ve faced him a lot in practice (in Pittsburgh),” Fleury said. “Sometimes I overthink stuff and what he likes to do, but I was really happy to make that save.”
From there, Fleury faced just four more shots over the final 16:55. And adding to the deflation of the Coyotes’ hopes after Fleury’s save on Kessel was a clanker moments later.
Johan Larsson rang one off the far post, the puck squirted back toward Fleury, whose left pad was off the ice and allowed the puck to get underneath so he could cover it and stop play.
“The breakaway save on Phil Kessel … that’s a huge momentum save for us at the right time, to give us a chance to get back to work and keep the pressure on them,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. “I thought Flower gave us exactly the kind of game we needed tonight.”
With his shutout, Fleury passed Walter Broda for sole possession of 16th all time.
“We had our moments,” Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said. “You’re looking for that big moment.”
For the Golden Knights, once again, it was their face of the franchise since they entered the National Hockey League.
W.G. Ramirez is the newest columnist and reporter for Vegas Hockey Now. He is the Golden Knights beat writer for The Associated Press and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch him on Twitter @WillieGRamirez
Karlsson’s Late Goal Lifts Golden Knights
William Karlsson played the role of hero for the Vegas Golden Knights, notching the game-winning goal with just 43 seconds remaining in a scoreless game to give the VGK the 1-0 victory Sunday afternoon.
With cheers coming from what sounded more like a partisan Vegas crowd, Jonathan Marchessault dug out a puck from behind the Coyotes net and centered to Karlsson. Karlsson made no mistake, burying the puck on the stick side of Darcy Kuemper (26 saves) for the game-winning goal.
Marc-Andre Fleury posted his 62nd career shutout on 16 saves. The victory was his third straight to open the 2021 season.
For the Vegas Golden Knights, the win is redemption after giving up five goals to the Coyotes on Friday night for the team’s first loss of the season. This time Vegas never really let Arizona into the contest, giving up only four shots in the first period.
The game felt sluggish at times, perhaps due to the afternoon start but also the fact that these same two teams were facing each other for the fourth straight time. Fortunately for Vegas, they were able to break through late and steal the victory.
“The name of the game was patience,” Karlsson said with a relieved laugh after the game. “We had a lot of chances and sooner or later they will go in. I thought we had a great game. Eventually (it) has to go in and it did.”
When the Golden Knights had the energy up and forechecked aggressively in the game they generated chances. Nowhere was that on display more than the game-winning goal. Alex Tuch dumps the puck into the corner from neutral ice as Marchessault attacks with speed into the Coyotes zone, beating out an icing call. Marchessault puts the puck into an area just off the net in the slot where Karlsson was able to follow up and immediately shoot the puck, not allowing Kuemper to set up for the shot.
WILD BILL SAVED THE BEST FOR LAST 🤠🚨 pic.twitter.com/UBlTugE2y5
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) January 24, 2021
Vegas was definitely the better of the two sides throughout regulation, out-shooting and out-chancing the Coyotes especially in the later stages of the game. Darcy Kuemper deserves the credit for yet another great start for Arizona, making save after save to give the Coyotes a shot at the win.
The Vegas Golden Knights return home for the team’s toughest test so far, a pair of games against the St. Louis Blues starting Tuesday evening.
- I feel like I’m beating the same drum over and over, but when the Vegas Golden Knights are generating scoring chances, it’s because of the forecheck. This team is built on speed and being aggressive, chasing down pucks and setting up scoring chances from that. Today’s game-winning goal was a perfect example of that.
- Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t busy the entire time, but made every single save he needed to including a breakaway stop on Phil Kessel that could have spelled disaster for the VGK. I’ve never seen a goalie who stays so completely game-ready regardless of work schedule. Fleury won’t receive the credit he deserves for the work he did in this one, but without him being perfect, perhaps Vegas doesn’t win.
- The Vegas Golden Knights have never gone past regulation with a 0-0 score, and came within 43 seconds of that happening against Arizona.
- Once again Cody Glass sat and Nic Hague was back in the lineup, giving Vegas the traditional six defensemen and 12 forwards. Hague looked good and to underscore another point I’ve been making, this team is much better with six defensemen in the lineup.
- Vegas also dominated in the faceoff circle, winning 61% of the draws.
Coyotes End Golden Knights Win Streak At Four
The Arizona Coyotes stopped the Vegas Golden Knights winning streak at four games with a 5-2 victory at Gila River Arena on Friday night.
Connor Garland led the Coyotes offense with a goal and two assists, while Nick Schmaltz scored for the third straight game.
It’s a very difficult proposition to beat a team four times in a row – look at any playoff series. Arizona winning a game, especially at home, was probably due. The Coyotes seemed to have more spring in their step than they did Wednesday night when the Golden Knights handed the Coyotes a 5-2 loss. Several times the Vegas defense allowed odd-man rushes to the Coyotes, and running five defensemen once again likely contributed to some of the errors on the back end.
“It’s definitely different,” said Shea Theodore after the game. “You are rotating through partners (and) you can’t exactly get into the rhythm with one guy… at the same time I don’t think that’s an excuse.”
“We should be able to adapt. We just can’t give up that many odd-man rushes on any given night.”
Vegas Golden Knights head coach Pete DeBoer said he felt it was more the special teams that affected the outcome of the game.
“Penalties really kinda took our momentum out of the game. Both taking them, and obviously their power play goal early, and then a bunch of the other kills we had to have… when they did take (penalties) I didn’t think our power play created any momentum for us. For me that was… the story.”
“Some self-inflicted things tonight,” DeBoer said.
Whatever the reason, Vegas allowed the Coyotes to grow confident by ceding the opportunities and it showed. Arizona seemed to feel better about its game more and more as the game wore on.
Darcy Kuemper made 29 saves to earn the win as Vegas never quite seemed to find the scoring touch it displayed Wednesday night. Robin Lehner struggled, giving up four goals on 25 shots against and will likely want a couple of those goals back. Lehner seemed off the entire night, whether handling the puck, setting himself for shots, or tracking movement. Those games will happen, but they’re highlighted even more when the goaltender in the other net makes the needed saves. Kuemper was definitely the better of the two goalies on the night.
Fortunatley for the Golden Knights, they’ll be able to jump right back into the action against the Coyotes on Sunday afternoon at 4 pm MT, 3 pm PT.
- The game marked the first time this season the Vegas Golden Knights have given up more than two goals.
- Cody Glass returned to the lineup after sitting out a pair of games and recorded a power play goal in the third period.
- Shea Theodore scored for the second straight game, an unassisted marker at 1:19 of the third period.
- Vegas went back to a lineup that featured five defensemen and 13 forwards with Glass back in the lineup. Notably both Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo went minus-2 in the contest.
- Mark Stone keeps his scoring streak intact, assisting on Cody Glass’ power play goal in the third period to give him eight points (2-6-8) in his first five games.